This casual institution is over 100 years old, and it doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is: a solid local joint. Folks come to Chelles for the typical Costa Rican fare like casados, set meals that often include beans, rice, salad, fried plantains, and your choice of protein (usually chicken, pork, or steak).
Chelles does other Tico comfort-food staples too, like arroz con pollo (rice mixed with chicken), sopa de mariscos (seafood soup), and more. They even have tasty pressed sandwiches and desserts like chocolate cake and banana Banoffee pie. The restaurant is on a busy corner right smack in the city center, so if you want to come for just a beer and some people watching, that’s fine, too.
Calle 9, San José
Costa Rica Beer Factory
If you'd like to try several local microbrews, Costa Rica Beer Factory (CRBF) is the place to go. It's one of the most awarded breweries in the country, with four commercial brews and a rotating seasonal option each month, plus several other choices from around the country and region. As a brewpub, each dish is carefully crafted to pair well with any of the beers at CRBF and features local, fresh ingredients and grass-fed meat.
You'll find typical brewpub grub at CRBF, so it's a great option if you need some comfort food with a Costa Rican twist of flavors. Chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, loaded nachos, burgers, and pizza are all menu staples, but you'll also find traditional dishes like fried plantains, beans and rice, carmelized chicken, and stuffed peppers and mushrooms. You can think of it as an elevated and Costa Rican version of pub food. If you still have room at the end of your meal (the dishes are huge), try the signature milkshake.
C. 33, Los Yoses, San José
For breakfast, brunch, or lunch (plus coffee and pastries), head to hip Franco in the trendy Escalante neighborhood. The locale is the dream of two brothers, one an engineer and the other a barista; both fans of really good food. You'll find homemade pastries and third-wave specialty coffee, plus brunch dishes like avocado toast, pancakes, breakfast bagels, and fresh salads.
All the dishes served at Franco come from as many local, regional, and seasonal ingredients as possible. Their menu is truly a mesh of hearty staples, unique tastes, and Costa Rican flavors. Try the black tahini and chocolate french toast or rose danish with candied coconut for something sweet. If you're a savory brunch fan, you have endless choices. Perhaps the croissant benedicts, huevos rancheros, gallo pinto bowl, or sweet and salty grilled cheese will do the trick. The menu carries over into lunch with cheese boards, sandwiches, burgers, and a tuna tataki bowl, plus wine and cocktails.
Barrio Escalante, Av. 7 3166, San José
The farm-to-table craze has come to Costa Rica, and it’s the perfect country for it. This is a nation with a long legacy of cattle raising, and we all know about its abundance of fresh exotic fruits and vegetables. Furca takes this to heart, serving only locally sourced, sustainable ingredients with a particular focus on house-aged steaks from local livestock.
There’s also plenty of fresh seafood on offer, including grilled octopus, shrimp salad, fresh salmon, and the list goes on. The ambiance hits all the right notes, too. The lighting is warm and the décor minimal, and you’ll enjoy your meal in ruby-red vinyl chairs sitting on sleek and shiny hardwood floors. Both the food and service are impeccable, which makes it yet another great option for a night out to kick off that romantic beach getaway, or even as a last meal with that special someone before returning home.
Calle 76, San José
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With a name like Le Chandelier, you can bet that you’re in for some haute cuisine. Located in the east of the city, this restaurant is an institution, popular with locals since its opening in 1985. It does refine and familiar French classics, presented unironically using only the freshest ingredients.
That said, the plating here is as creative as any other high-end eatery in San José. Popular dishes include old staples like pea soup with smoked ham and loin of beef medallions with green pepper. They also do solid dishes utilizing Costa Rican ingredients like corvina (a type of white fish) in an almond crust and scallops in tropical salsa. For dessert, go for the Swiss chocolate mousse. Le Chandelier is a big space with various dining rooms (some to accommodate banquets and larger events), and each has a different theme.
ICE San Pedro, San José
Lola Mora's Ice Cream
Even just 24 hours in San José warrants a stop at this local institution. Inside the buzzy Mercado Central is the famous La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora, known for its sorbetera (artisanal ice cream), which it's been serving to sweet-tooth locals and visitors since 1910. “Sorbetera” is the Costa Rican-Spanish word for the hand-crank ice cream maker. The specialty of Lola Mora is a delicately spiced vanilla ice cream with hints of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. There’s actually only one flavor here, but it’s all you’ll need—and quite possibly all you’ve ever wanted. The Mora family has crafted this beloved scoop for more than a century and there's a reason why they've never changed it.
Mercado Central, Paso De La Vaca, San José
Mantras Café and Tea House
This is another option just east of the city center, but what separates Mantras Café from other entries on this list is that it is entirely vegetarian. Sure, you can go for the veggie burger here and you won't be disappointed, but the chefs take inspiration from all over the world. They serve an extensive, globetrotting menu that includes pad thai, sushi, curries, falafel, lasagna, nachos, and much more.
Also, the ingredients they use are totally organic, with some of their greens coming from an independently owned local hydroponic farm. Even the coconut milk and the peanut butter they use in the sauces are organic. Of course, here you can find vegan and gluten-free menu items as well. Because it's also a tea house, Mantras Café serves an extensive list of teas and coffees (including chai tea), as well as fresh-fruit smoothies. This is probably the best vegetarian restaurant in San José.
200 Norte del Farolito, San Pedro, San José
Landing squarely in the fine-dining category, this restaurant is the very definition of “upscale” (it also doubles as an antique shop). Park Café has been doing European-inspired dishes with Latin-American and eastern twists for some time. And even though you’ll recognize most of the ingredients, the beautifully presented and highly creative plating is like something from another world. There’s a lot to recommend here, from the quail in crispy pastry to the paella-stuffed calamari to the plums stuffed with quails egg in curry sauce with basmati rice.
Calle 48, San José
Restaurante Grano de Oro
Located in the enchanting Hotel Grano de Oro (one of the best places to stay in San José), this is another can't-miss dining option. The menu at the Grano de Oro Restaurant is a celebration of French-Mediterranean cuisine that utilizes local Costa Rican ingredients and tropical produce.
For lunch, their French chef serves up refined standards like frisée salad, beef tartare, and salmon Nicoise, while the dinner menu is heavy on fresh pasta and delectable plates like beef tenderloin with pistachio crust, New Zealand lamb chops, and roast duck breast with caramelized figs. Their award-winning wine cellar features 2,000 bottles that have been hand-paired with the menu. As a side note, the elegant patio is the perfect spot to dine while enjoying the fresh scents of the hotel's bromeliad-filled garden.
Calle 30, Av 2, San José Province, San José
Make your way to Sikwa for one-of-a-kind gastronomy: ancestral Costa Rican cuisine. The restaurant works simultaneously as an educational and research center to preserve the gastronomic traditions of the country's native peoples. The menu is an assortment of dishes crafted with local, regional, and seasonal ingredients using ancestral recipes. Not only will you enjoy special dishes passed down by generations, but you'll also savor unique flavors that you can't find anywhere else.
For an appetizer, consider the green plantain flour empanadas stuffed with pickled veggies or the fried cassava with Bagaces cheese. For the main course, you'll find an assortment of tamales, fish cooked in leaves, traditional chicken stew, and arracache (traditional root vegetable) with shrimp. If you have room for dessert, try the michilá (banana and corn cake) or purple-corn flan with local honey. The menu also features signature cocktails named for places in Costa Rica and wines from Chile and Argentina.
C. 41, Los Yoses, San José
To truly get a sense of Costa Rican cuisine and culture, you need to eat at a soda, such as Yogui's. Sodas are typically small, family-run eateries that serve traditional, hearty fare for working-class locals. Sure, the décor of this strip-mall restaurant isn’t going to knock your socks off, but that’s hardly the point. You come for the quality. The food here is fresh, the service is friendly, and they do breakfast all day. Pull up a stool at the long bar and try the traditional Costa Rican morning meal of gallo pinto, a dish of black beans mixed with rice and served with eggs and bread.
Av 2, San José
Ready to go on your own tasting tour through Costa Rica? Browse these great itineraries for inspiration—and here's more info on what to do and see in San José.